Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Westbury Hotel-Mayfair, London - the hotel that can't get out of its own way

I often write about my travels. I book them online and take them for business.
I frequent luxurylink.com and am a big fan of theirs. The trips are often very underpriced and additional perks, such as massages, are included at prices I could never book even without those perks.

I buy the trips when they come up at special prices and wait until I need them. I buy them for Rome, Seattle, London and San Francisco, since I am often there and can always use them.

I have had great results, by and large. They carefully screen the hotels and usually only the best ones are available at luxurylink.com. I have had two disaters, though. One in Rome and one as we speak, in London.

I am staying at The Westbury Hotel in London and wish I weren't. I had stayed here once before when I did my UK book tour in Spring 2000. I loved it then. The food was outstanding, the service even better. They even had my favorite shoe store in the world right across the street and the store where I buy my underwear down the block. (You know that you travel too often when you buy staples in other countries. I buy my eye glasses in Singapore, too,)

I should have known this was a problem. I bought the trip at auction (and was the only bidder). It wasn't cheap, but for what I got, it saved me money. It also included a studio suite at the price I would have booked an ordinary room in London in this neighborhood (Bond Street and Conduit).

I e-mailed them with the date requests right after buying the trip. (I bought this just for an upcoming trip I had to make for a presentation at Parliament on online safety.)

I needed to hear back right away. But no one bothered to e-mail me back.

I followed up with a second e-mail, again to the person Luxurylink.com told me to contact to set up the reservations. Still no answer. I contacted luxurylink.com and was told to call and not e-mail.

I found out the Westbury Hotel contact person was on maternity leave and they had "so many e-mails from people wanting reservations they put them aside until they could get to them" I couldn't believe my ears. I almost laughed. Almost is the operative word here.

They promised me a call back. You can guess what happened, or better yet, what didn't happen. Finally, on my next call, insisting on speaking to someone in management (this became a common activity on my part, they are now all on a first name basis with me) they confirmed my room. I went over the class of room included in the package with them. They booked it as a deluxe room, not a studio suite. I reminded them twice more.

I changed my travel dates, moving them up by one day, and found out I still wasn't in a studio suite (whatever that is anyway). Each call ended in a promise to do better next time. I was starting to feel like a mother of a nine year old.

I would have made alterative plans but had prepaid the trip and was now too close to the travel dates to rebook without confusing everything else.

I arrived at check-in time. I was taken to a "studio suite" that was dark and didn't have the promised view of Bond Street. (I frankly could care less, but wanted something that didn't look out at a wall of another building a few feet away. :-() They then offered me another room they claim was a suite, with a bed and a small sitting area at the foot of the bed. I complained, and I was told I could upgrade to a larger suite for 500 pounds a night more (about $900 at today's exchange rates). When I stopped laughing, I marched down to meet the duty manager. A nice guy who didn't really want to hear the history of the world and the Westbury Hotel screw ups, I am sure. But he listened, parked me in the lounge with a hot pot of tea while he checked out other "studio suites." I assumed things were looking up, finally. I also showed him their posting at luxurylink.com and what my package included. He seemed shocked.

He found me a lovely little suite, apologized that it didn't face Bond Street, and I settled in. I had ot call and remind them about the additional little things included in my package, each coming as an apparent surprise to them. :-(

I tried to log into the broadband service and once again had problems. This time when I tried to sign up for service, the service told me that I wasn't checked into my room. While sitting there in my room, I had problems understanding how I could have gotten a key without being checked in. I called down to the front desk. Whomever answered had no idea what I was talking about. She insisted I needed a tech engineer to fix my laptop's settings (they were, of course, fine). I had e-mails backed up relating to my schedule and needed access. it took about 1/2 hour before I was able to get service, after the duty officer rebooted the server (they said). But the service required that I reclick on IE whenever it wanted to check e-mail using outlook, and confirm every time I wanted to surf to a new page. all at the bargain price of more than $23 per 24 hour period of access. :-(

But, heck, I had high speed access, so I should't complain. I also had a US ethernet adapter on my desk.

And, to be honest, they weren't the only good things.
The food was great, consistently. But service at breakfast was a problem. Still, the food was good and the hotel lovely, especially the public rooms. A porter named Alfie, 17-1/2 years old and learning Spanish and German, was one of the nicest and most able porters I have eve encountered, so there is hope for this place.

I dropped back to the hotel after a morning at Parliament planning tomorrow's event and giving some interviews. I wanted to rest and take a hot bath. But when I got ready to run the water, I found lots of hairs (not mine) in the tub. That's when I lost it...

I will be checking out a day early, even though I prepaid for five nights. Even though it will cost me to change my flight. Even though I have things to do in town. I would have left even earlier if I could have.

Some times you need to just cut your losses and know when to give up.

so, if you are visiting England, drop by luxurylink.com and bid on the lygon arms hotel (lygonarms.com) for a wonderful restful time in front of a huge walk-in fireplace with food to die for and a spa attached. And stear clear of The Westbury...Please! But if you are a hotel owner and looking for an incredible porter, and manager-in-training candidate, look up Alfie. He's the only reason I stayed this long.

just my 2 cents.
Parry

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